Excerpts from the Eulogy for the Martyred Children

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

September 18, 1963

These children—unoffending, innocent, and beautiful—were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity. And yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. And…in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death…

They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution…Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.

And so my friends, they did not die in vain. God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force that will bring new light to this dark city. The Holy Scripture says, “A little child shall lead them.”

The death of these little children may lead our whole Southland from the low road of man’s inhumanity to man to the high road of peace and brotherhood. These tragic deaths may lead our nation to substitute an aristocracy of character for an aristocracy of color. The spilled blood of these innocent girls may cause the whole citizenry of Birmingham to transform the negative extremes of a dark past into the positive extremes of a bright future.

And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here, that in spite of the darkness of this hour, we must not despair. We must not become bitter, nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers. Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality…

Now I say to you in conclusion, life is hard, at times as hard as crucible steel. It has its bleak and difficult moments. Like the ever-flowing waters of the river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood. Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters. And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him, and that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace…

And today, as I stand over the remains of these beautiful, darling girls, I paraphrase the words of Shakespeare: Good night, sweet princesses. Good night, those who symbolize a new day. And may the flight of angels take thee to thy eternal rest. God bless you.

On September 18th, 1963 – three days after the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham by members of the Ku Klux Klan – the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a moving eulogy to 8,000 people assembled inside and outside the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church where a joint funeral was held for three of the 4 Little Girls. The funeral for Carole Robertson had been held the day before, planned earlier by her parents who decided it should remain a quiet, private service. Dr. King addressed and memorialized all 4 Little Girls, preserving and perpetuating their memory with his beautiful, comforting words that still call us to work together for good.